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Elvis, Herbs and Princess Anne

One of the most powerful newspaper editors in Europe who is also an author of several books, a leading feature writer whose interviewees ranged from Nelson Mandela to Pavarotti and an experienced herbalist discussing the importance of senses in creative writing - these were just some of the highlights of our recent retreat in Donegal, Ireland.

Former editor and professor of ethics at City University in London, Roy Greenslade has written three books, with a fourth coming out next month. Roy was managing editor of news for The Sunday Times in London, which during his tenure enjoyed a circulation of over one million copies, as well as editor of the Daily Mirror, with a circulation then of over three million.

Speaking to retreat participants from such diverse places as Nevada, California, New Jersey, Iowa, New York, Yorkshire, Dublin and London, Roy talked about his experiences in the world of high-level journalism and his books, including biographies of people such as Robert Maxwell, a media tycoon who died mysteriously at sea.


Roy’s latest book, due out next month, entitled ‘The Peer, the Priests and the Press - A Story of the Demise of Irish Landlordism,’ focuses on the life and times of Lord George Augusta Hill, a 19th century aristocrat who owned much of Gweedore in Donegal where our writing retreat takes place. Hill also married two of Jane Austen's nieces.


Roy also told an amusing story about his meeting with Priscilla Presley when he was in charge of serialising books for The Sun newspaper in London. With a quarter of a million pounds in advance advertising already booked and Priscilla suddenly saying she didn’t want to proceed with the contract on her biography about life with Elvis, Roy had to fly urgently to Los Angeles to meet with her at the Wilshire Hotel in the heart of Beverly Hills near Rodeo Drive and persuade her not to break the contract. Much to his relief, he succeeded.

Complementing Roy’s comments, Noreen Taylor talked about her life as a top feature writer in England and her meetings with many leading celebrities. For more than three decades Noreen travelled the world interviewing the famous and the infamous for the Daily Mirror, The Times and the Daily Mail.


From presidents to princesses: Nelson Mandela to Donald Trump; Paul McCartney to Mick Jagger; and Muhammad Ali to John McEnroe. Her journalistic adventures included meeting Jacqueline Kennedy on a train; tracking down a nine-year-old mother in an obscure Brazilian village. She told participants stories about meeting Princess Anne at Auschwitz concentration camp and having tea with a Colombian drug godfather.

Contrasting these talks, Columbia Hillen, an experienced herbalist, teacher, former managing director of a national publishing company in her native Romania and co-founder of Ireland Writing Retreat hosted a workshop on the importance of using our senses in developing characters, mood and suspense in creative writing. To emphasise her message, Columbia brought a range of plants and herbs into class and encouraged participants to touch and smell them to actualise their feelings and memories and transform them into words.

In addition to other practical writing workshops hosted by author and journalist, Sean Hillen, on plot, story arc and the essence of flash fiction, participants also enjoyed a wide range of excursions and cultural activities.


Throughout the week these included a ferryboat visit to an island; a tour of a national park and castle; an exclusive musical performance by multi-instrumentalist-cum-singer Noel Lenaghan with lunch inside a 19th century thatched cottage; and Irish sean-nos dance performances by award-winning dancers Eileen and Frank Sweeney; and Irish dance performances. Many of the writing assignments which were critiqued in class were based on these excursions and activities.



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